Sarah Dajani ’26
“Starting tomorrow, we shall end racism”: It sounds funny doesn’t it? Who (or what institutions) would ever say such a thing?
It is almost a week after Washington’s birthday, one of the federal holidays that continues to celebrate the white supremacist ideals of colonial figures. Debates over teaching critical race theory and attacks on white supremacy critiques and DEI work adopts the narrative: “starting tomorrow, we shall end racism.” This perspective, one that often takes the form of an attack, is presented as a call to prioritize competence, excellence and distinction rather than the color of one’s skin and background. After the reduction of several tragedies that took place over hundreds of years to an issue of qualification, these attackers call out racial equity advocates for practicing “reverse racism.”
Whether you are a person of color, white, or white-passing, these concepts apply to you. After moving to the US from Palestine, the former of which is much more racially diverse, I saw the impact of skin color on the quality of one’s life. Let’s start from the “New World” which we inhabit. In my Palestinian national history school book, we learned how the “New World” was “discovered” and that Palestine was at the center of the “Old World.” Although we are an occupied nation ourselves, a long history of colonization made us internalize the inferiority and adapt the forced narrative of those more powerful than us. What else still makes English in former British colonies, like Palestine, a measure of social standing?
Skin color has been so divisive as it is one of the first noticeable traits about another person. However, the attack on race goes way beyond the color of the skin into all aspects of culture, faith and language (and, therefore, thought). Our modern world has been shaped by white supremacy and acknowledging this is the only way to overpower this misrepresentation. Psychology further demonstrates how different characteristics contribute to the process of immigrant acculturation. Miranda and Matheny, in a psychological study conducted in 2000, investigated this in Latino immigrants to the US. Unsurprisingly, they found that immigrants who spoke more fluent English achieved higher academic degrees than those who spoke less fluently, and that the more financially stable an immigrant already is, the more seamless their acculturation.
What is surprising, however, is that this does not apply to white nationals migrating elsewhere. This only occurred to me months after I found this study. In the UAE, for example, almost 89% of the population is foreign and only 20% speak the national language, yet they still successfully get accustomed to the environment they are living in. In fact, the language of business and higher education is English, so one would be better off learning English over Arabic when migrating to the UAE. This can be attributed to the many international schools in former colonies, that originally served as one of the many ways to internalize the inferiority of intellectual thought and culture in the colonized nations. With a lack of motivation to integrate with the local “exotic” culture comes an exclusive selective attribution of one’s success to their place of residence; so, Elon Musk is all-American and nothing South African, while many of the most famous immigrant football players’ and scientists’ successes are attributed to their place of residence and snatched from their ethnic roots.
If none of these issues resonate with you, recall that the current US Declaration of Independence still includes the phrase, “merciless Indian savages.” By continuing to teach this in schools, the education system makes Native Americans sound foreign to their land by associating them with India. And of course, the system perpetuates that these Native Americans are still merciless because of…the genocide that was committed against them? Or the luxury of the nonexistent rights they currently enjoy? This list goes on and on and on. It is actually not a list; it is a development of a deeper understanding of how so many things are the way they are. The British National Museum is one of the most visited in the world, in large thanks to the Rosetta Stone that belongs to Egypt or the brass head of Ooni that belongs to Nigeria.
These examples only reiterate what Black activists have been saying for years: Vacant support of free speech, competence and excellence without critical context and the attempt to overlook race because “why does color even matter?” is still white supremacy in action. The only way humanity can move forward is by acknowledging the atrocities of the past, whether a result of white supremacy or not. Each continent and era has its own variation of an Aryan race resulting from years of power dynamics and attempts of domination, but white supremacy has been the most influential in shaping our current world, and Black people have been at the heart of this struggle, starting with the theft of Africa’s resources and the subsequent vilification of their skin color. Keep this exploitation in mind during Black History Month… and the months to follow.
The author proclaims: “It is almost a week after Washington’s birthday, one of the federal holidays that continues to celebrate the white supremacist ideals of colonial figures.” Actually, Presidents’ Day does not, unfortunately, specifically honor Washington’s birthday. The celebration of February 22nd, as well as the February 12th observance of Lincoln’s birthday, were dispensed with several decades ago. But that matter aside, Is there no member of the history faculty, not to mention the student body, who dares, in the present era of fictitious post-modernist “narratives,” to muster the courage to challenge the author’s factually false and intellectually reactionary statement.
For all the contradictions of the eighteenth century world in which George Washington lived, the ideals that inspired him and his fellow revolutionaries were those of the Enlightenment. These ideals found world historic expression in the Declaration of Independence, which declared as “self-evident” (at a time when actual social conditions did not support that claim) that “All men are created equal,” and, therefore, entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This was and remains a revolutionary claim, and one which inspired and legitimized violent struggles for its achievement all over the world that persist to this day.
The author makes use of the now fashionable and entrepreneurially-friendly phrase “racial equity.” The substitution of “equity” for the far more universal concept of “equality” is one of the deplorable manifestations of the attacks on Enlightenment principles.
I am writing these lines from Turkey, a country that has been devastated by an earthquake that has claimed, according to the latest estimates, 150,000 lives. The actual toll may be significantly higher. It is widely recognized that the massive scale of death is the outcome of the failure to implement appropriate building codes for an area where an earthquake was predicted by seismologists. This is just the worst of a seemingly unending series of disasters. Just one month ago there was the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which has poisoned an entire town. And earlier this week the train derailment in Greece. Overshadowing all these disasters is the on-going pandemic, which continues to claim approximately 3,000 lives in the US alone every week. The essential factor common to all these events is the subordination of human need to profit interests. The racial conception of history falsifies the past, cannot explain the present, and advance a progressive political and social agenda for the future. It certainly does not provide a program for the struggle against the reckless escalation of the war in Ukraine, which threatens to develop into a full-scale global nuclear war.
Yes, I am arguing for the recognition that the fundamental division in society is not race, but class. The former concept is, in its social and political essence, directed toward the redistribution of wealth (“equity”) within various sections of the ruling elites. The concept of class directs intellectual attention and political activity toward the elimination of exploitation and the achievement of genuine human equality.
George Washington, along with Jefferson, Sam Adams and others who led the revolution against Britain and its monarchy, made a great contribution to the historic and as yet uncompleted struggle for equality. And that is why his memory deserves to be honored.